By Ed Mason, CEO, Jet Zero Australia
If you have ever flown on a QF2 back from London Heathrow in recent years, you have flown in an aircraft that uses Sustainable Aviation Fuel. With domestic and international air travel now approaching pre-pandemic levels in Australia, industry and government are increasingly aware of the impact of the industry to the environment. When it comes to emissions reduction, aviation is recognised as one of the hard-to-abate sectors, due to its reliance on liquid fuels and the difficulties in commercialising electronic passenger jets. As a result, the importance of Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) has been brought to the forefront of policy debate and development.
Australia is increasingly reliant on short and long-haul aviation, and currently does not have domestic SAF production. This was one of the driving factors for Jet Zero Australia CEO Ed Mason’s vision to establish a SAF production facility in Australia.
The SAF and biofuels opportunity for Australia proves there doesn’t need to be a trade-off between emissions reduction, regional job creation and energy security. Like in agriculture, Australia has a unique opportunity in biofuels – to sustain not only our own needs but those of the region and trading partners in the Asia-Pacific.
Many jurisdictions will increasingly be mandating the use of SAFs at their international airports. This will mean Australian airlines – and those flying in and out of Australia – will have to have a steadily increasing proportion of SAF blended with conventional fuels. Japan, for example, will have a mandated ten per cent SAF blend for any international flights departing from Japanese airports.
SAF is now also a proven technology, with existing fleets certified to fly with up to a 50 per cent blend. Not only this, but both major manufacturers, Boeing and Airbus, have already flown test flights on 100 per cent SAF (with modified engines).
Qantas, Boeing and Queensland Government Investment
The real “game changer” in Australian investment came in March 2023 with Qantas and Airbus jointly investing $2 million into a feasibility study of a biofuel production plant in the state’s north that will use ethanol from agricultural by-products to turn it into SAF.
Crucially, this marked the first major investment for both corporate juggernauts into SAF production globally. The Queensland Government has also committed $760,000 to the feasibility study.To date, both Qantas and Airbus have committed to invest as much as $300 million to accelerate the establishment of the SAF industry in Australia.
Jet Zero Australia foresees the completion of Final Investment Decision to be made in the next 18 months with construction to start on the plant by 2025. Construction of a larger facility is proposed by Jet Zero in partnership with global firm Lanzajet’s “alcohol to jet”, technology and would aim to produce up to 100 million litres of SAF each year.
It is hoped a new facility could create 100 permanent jobs, as well as 1,000 jobs during construction. Making the announcement in March, Qantas’ Chief Sustainability Officer, Andrew Parker, said the pilot project was a first but significant step towards turning agricultural by-products into aviation fuel in Australia.
“SAF is a drop-in solution that we can use with current technologies and it’s critical to the decarbonisation of the aviation industry,” Mr Parker said. Qantas is currently using SAF sourced overseas to power commercial flights out of London and expects to add San Francisco and Los Angeles in 2025.
Jet Zero’s Ambitions
Australia is uniquely positioned to take advantage of the emerging biofuels industry due to our large reserves and production of agricultural feedstocks. Biofuels can be made from by-products of the agriculture, forestry and cropping industries, meaning better deals for primary producers.
The Queensland Government were early promoters of the biofuels industry, with their 10-Year Roadmap and Action Planbeing announced in 2016. This paved the way for Queensland to become a biofuels hub for industries such as aviation, shipping, mining and logistics.
The Federal Government has also recently announced a $30 million fund through the Australian Renewable Energy Agency’s Sustainable Aviation Fuel Funding Initiative to support the development of an advanced biofuels sector. The New South Wales Government is also increasingly focussed on opportunities for SAF, particularly in regional New South Wales.
Moreover , while Jet Zero is primarily a SAF story, it is slated to produce bio-diesel as well, another biofuel deemed key in other hard to abate sectors like shipping. This is produced in the process of making SAF, being a secondary part of the refining process and opportunity for a parallel industry.
Jet Zero welcomes the increased focus on sustainable liquid fuels from the government, in particular, the Queensland Government who is moving forward with a Sustainable Liquid Fuels Strategy, and the New South Wales Government who is increasingly focused on the SAF opportunity.
Future of biofuels in Australia
The Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) recently announced a $30 million grant would be made available for the SAF Funding Initiative. The scope of this initiative will be focussed on renewable feedstocks in Australia.
The ARENA $30M SAF Fund may be viewed as a “good start” but Australia has a lot more to do to ensure we don’t lose the opportunity to other jurisdictions – the USA and Europe in particular are leapfrogging us with the regulations and incentives they’ve put in place.
A recent report by Deloitte found that up to 26,200 jobs could be created, and importantly they would be located in regional Australia – the investment warranted from the government is generating a whole new industry – in particular our regional communities where jobs are needed the most.
SAF also allows us to wean ourselves off our civilian and military jet fuel requirements from foreign imports. Currently, we import three quarters of our refined fuel needs and 100 per cent of our jet fuel needs. This has been a cause for concern for some time in relation to our strategic exposure and vulnerabilities.
To this end, the Federal Government should look into mobilising the weight of the Fuel Security Act and behind the domestic SAF industry. There is significant opportunity here.
Australia has long been shutting down its domestic refinery capacity for some time and leaving ourselves dangerously exposed both strategically and financially. Jet Zero Australia has the ambition to be leading the development and operation of new greenfield and brownfield refining capacity for biofuels.
The development of a sophisticated SAF industry in Australia is not only an incredible economic opportunity that provides a genuine solution to aviation emissions in the short term, but one that provides a solution to Australian fuel security concerns.
Jet Zero will be working to be at the very forefront of that industry and moving at a speed that will result in a very real and valuable SAF industry within the next two years.